Dale Wilson: More Combat

A main target of the Fifth Air Force was the Japanese center of operations at Rabaul, New Britain, the objective of Dale’s next mission. Nine B-25s ran into heavy weather an hour from the target. They turned back but were recalled to try again. Bad weather won and that mission was canceled.

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Dale Wilson at 17-Mile Field, Port Moresby, New Guinea 1943

The 38th Bomb Group attacked Rabaul, which was still a major problem, in early November, 1943. Dale wasn’t on that mission but two of the four squadrons suffered heavy losses–forty-five men killed, eight bombers lost. Nine P-38 escorts were also lost.

One of the P-38 pilots, Francis Love, had gone to school in Dexter with Wilsons, a classmate of Dale’s older sister Doris. Francis had already been Missing in Action twice, but had managed to get back to his base both times. This time, though, he didn’t.

On Dale’s next mission, bombing targets from Alexishafen to Bogadjim Road, three Mitchells were hit. One crashed into the sea but all five crew members were later seen in a life raft, rowing toward an island.

On a courier and weather reconnaissance mission, Dale’s lone bomber roared out over Milne Bay to the small jungled mountainous island of Goodenough. The next day it flew to Kiriwina to make observations, and returned to 17-Mile Field.

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“I can’t let you know or seem to write anything of interest that will not escape a little censoring,” so he told them he was fine except for a skin itch associated with the area. Guinea itch, similar to poison ivy, was worse at night and in the morning. They all took Atebrine tablets to prevent malaria.

“Let me know Junior’s address there at Sheppard Field. I takes a lot of letter writing now, doesn’t it? About all I can say in my letters is that I’m still functioning.

“How’s the corn pickin’ situation? I’d enjoy plowing with the John Deere again. Did Junior get the fall plowing done? It makes the farming more interesting with the tractor. Were the weeds (especially the butterprint) bad in the alfalfa this year?

“Do you think you will move on an acreage someplace? I think a few acres of land with a home is the nearest things to security. When the war ends we will have to feed the European countries and replenish their farms with livestock, machinery, seeds, etc. The demand will be great for ten or fifteen years.

“How is Spats and his new pal?” Clabe and Leora and gotten a small dog they named Smoky Joe. “Does the pump up by the house work all right? I believe you said something about running water. I’d like to be there and eat some of that popcorn for Christmas (including, of course, fried chicken, raw carrots, plenty of milk, etc.). Oh, yes, and good old ‘wheat’ for breakfast. ha”

What about the future?

“I have been doing some thinking (believe it or not) about what I should do when hostilities cease and I am able, if I so desire, to leave the Army. Of course, before that time, there is always the possibility of two events which may directly affect my immediate, if not the extended, future for me. But I have been thinking that they will be favorable.

“I am wondering if I shouldn’t go to a college and specialize in something outside of flying, like radio, for instance. At the same time, I may take up something that would improve myself towards being a better ‘mixer’ and conversationalist. The Army has helped me a lot, however.

“On the other hand, I’m wondering if maybe I shouldn’t stay in the Air Corps or get a job in commercial flying. Yes, if I go on to a school, I’ll continue to fly some kind of a flying machine–somewhere. I love to fly and will continue to do so as long as I am able or permitted. Sometimes I think that I would like to go to the University of Iowa, play football, and be a teacher in math, radio, or some other interesting subject. Yes, I’ve even thought about the possible chances of ever getting married someday. Although the way I look at things now, this may never happen.

“Of course, we can think about giving ’em hell here and winning the war as fast as we can, at present, but when we can, we all think a little about the future and just how our leaders will thrash it out without too much fighting among themselves.”

Dale typed several of his letters in the tent. Navigator Stack also typed letters home.

Hearing “White Christmas” on the radio made Dale think of Gardner Field. “It is funny but certain songs make me think of a certain place. Some songs make me homesick. I guess I’m just a sentimentalist.”

“Well, until next time, God Bless You, and SO LONG. With Love and wishes for the BEST of Luck, Dale,” he signed off.

More Missions

Dale’s crew was especially on the alert on their courier and mail run to Tsili Tsili, Nadzab, Gusap, and Lae along the Markam River Valley. The day before, two enemy Zeros had strafed the courier plane on the ground at Gusap while the crew hid in slit trenches. Dale’s plane returned safely.

Two days later they were ordered to strike Alexishafen on Astrolabe Bay, with twenty-one other B-25s. Antiaircraft fire at the target was heavy, intense, and accurate. Five planes were hit. One had a tire shot out. The crews managed to drop 100-pound demolition bombs on airstrips, dumps, and revetment areas. They also dropped parafrag bombs–shrapnel fragmentation bombs with small parachutes attached to delay their explosions.

Dale’s crew landed safely after a tough 4 1/2 hour mission, but he couldn’t write home about any of it.

The next day, Private Freeto had finished painting the squadron panther on six of their planes, all four squadrons of the 38th Bomb Group rendezvoused with planes of the 345th Bomb Group and an escort of two squadrons of P-47s, for a massive strike on Alexishafen. As they reached the target, the eight strafers of Dale’s squadron split up over palm and coconut trees into two fights of four to bomb the airstrip west of the road and the old Catholic mission airstrip east of it. They had to dodge antiaircraft and machine gun fire, but all landed safely at Port Moresby.

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Back: Pilot John Wieland. Copilot Dale Wilson, Navigator John Stack. Front:
Gunner Irvin Woollenweber, Radio Stanley W. Banko, Gunner Joseph Sidebottom

News reports at home acknowledged this strike and one at Madang as the heaviest yet in New Guinea.

On their next mission, the crew of Wieland, Wilson, Stack, Banko, and Woollenweber were assigned a plane that had been patched up from being hit by shrapnel at Alexishafen a month earlier. The target was the Wewak-Boram area on New Guinea’s north coast, which had four airfields and scores of planes. The nine Mitchell bombers ran into a raid as they arrived at Gusap. As their fighter escort intercepted the enemy, the bombers retreated to their base, which still meant another trip across the Owen Stanleys.

Next, Dale’s crew made three lone weather reconnaissance missions, over three days, to New Britain and east of the island of Kiriwina.

Love & Good Luck Always

Leora wrote Dale that Junior had asked her for one of Dale’s pictures “so he could put it on his shelf and display it with great pride. That is what Danny did, too. Oh, we are all proud of you!

“We think you have been thinking on the right track about what to do when this is over. You’d make a good instructor in math or any subject you like. Yes, and if you find a good girl, get married and have a home.

“We can imagine seeing you writing letter on the typewriter in your tent, and so glad you can hear a radio once in awhile.

“You are doing find, Dale–just keep your chin up, do your best. This will be over sometime before so long, and what a lot of experiences you’ll have to tell us all.

“We will write again soon. Hope you get your Xmas boxes. A prayer for you and God Bless you. Love & Good Luck Always, Mom & Dad.”

Dale’s twelfth mission was Lindenhafen Plantation in the Gasmata area along New Britain’s southern coast. All four squadrons made three-minute sprints in formations of six abreast, dropping 100-pound demolition bombs in train through the plantation’s coconut grove. All planes returned safely at their base.

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Dale addressed a letter November 23 to his folks “in good ol’ U.S.A.” from “Somewhere in the Southwest Pacific.

“I received your letter of Nov. 2nd and the Christmas package today,” he said. “I sure was glad to get everything and certainly will come in handy. We get all the shaving cream and razor blades we need here at the P.X. but hardly ever American candy.

“I suppose [cousin] Merrill has seen plenty of action. I would like to see him and give him a ride in a bomber. If you see him, say ‘hello’ for me and that I have been ‘baptized,’ too.

“It won’t be long now before I get a crew and a plane assigned to me. Anyway, I fly half the missions as first pilot at present. I got ‘[blackened by the censor] on’ at Greenville, S.C., as did most of my class there in that particular squadron.”

“I can say that every day is a day off the war and a day closer to victory, or, that every mission is a mission off the war and a mission closer to coming home soon.”

Time Will Tell

Dale was allowed to write “Somewhere in New Guinea” in his next letter. “I now have 1/5 of my required missions. I don’t know if I’ll quit when I do have the required number. If I get into the latest medium bomber now produced, or the latest attack bomber, I may decide to stay over here longer. Time will tell.”

“It will be two Christmas days that I have been away from home. I may be home before it is three. Again, time will tell.”

 

For more about Dale Wilson, click on his name in the tags below.

 

 

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